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Mandatory content filtering?

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Tuesday January 1, 2008 )

Australian Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy has announced plans to compel all Australian internet service providers to implement content filtering services in the interests of protecting people from “pornography and inappropriate material”. This will not be an opt-in service but opt-out.

What opt-out means is that if you have a connection to your home and you don’t want to have your content filtered; you’ll need to specifically request to be excluded from the filtering.

I don’t know what to make of this. Obviously the Protecting Australian Families Online program implemented by the previous government, that cost taxpayers almost $120 million, failed miserably. Bureacrats and the web simply don’t mix; most still don’t quite get it :).

The parent in me feels mandatory content filtering is a great idea given that many parents seem totally incapable of adequately monitoring their children’s Internet usage. The peacenik in me also applauds it as a way of reducing the amount of hate material being so readily accessible; but the civil libertarian in me yells “danger Will Robinson!”

What will “objectionable material” extend to? I’ve seen some very unpleasant stuff in my online travels; images that unfortunately have been burned into my mind; but where is the line going to be drawn? Where is the line between pornography and art, dissent and treason, passionate ideaology and terrorism – there’s all sorts of complex issues here. Who will make those decisions?

If I decide to opt out of this service will that somehow mark me as a freak, racist, terrorist or worse? What type of flags will it raise?

I’m still a big believer in freedom of speech and expression. While it’s unfortunate that many abuse those privileges, sometimes it’s just a case of taking the good with the bad.

I’m also a big believer in the concept of people not letting their kids use the ‘net if they can’t be supervised, but as a “civilized” society, I fully accept we do have a responsibility to protecting those children whose parents won’t and to try and steer emotionally unstable or corrupt people away from these destructive influences.

This is an incredibly controversial move and I’m really torn on it; you can read more the Australian Government’s filtering plans here.

What are your thoughts?


3 comments for Mandatory content filtering?
  1. Hi Michael, I do not feel torn by this issue, I fear that Stephen Conroy will make legislate that is retrograde.
    Like most new legislation in Australia, this will mean we get a totally different outcome than that intended and will be an enormous waste again, with the bad guys coming out unscathed and the general public losing real content through some half baked algorithm or worse.

    Comment by Ern — January 1, 2008 @ 5:24 am

  2. An excellent post!

    The parent in me agrees with what you say, and it does sound totally reasonable on that score.

    However, when opponents are labeled as pornographers, or supporters of pornography, then I start to get worried, and offended!

    I would prefer intelligent, informed debate that can lead to positive change!

    Comment by Allan Cockerill — January 2, 2008 @ 6:17 am

  3. Thanks for your comments Allan and Ern. I’m starting to wonder if we have to go this far, how long it will be before we have to have licenses for using a computer connected to the Internet.. although in some cases, that mightn’t be a bad thing ;).

    Comment by Michael Bloch — January 3, 2008 @ 4:59 am

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